Eye of the Bear

Written by Naida West
Review by Lisa Ann Verge

Eye of the Bear, the prequel to the author’s earlier novel River of Red Gold, relates the history of early California during the time of the Spanish missions. What makes it unique is that Ms. West tells the tale from the point of view of a Native American.

Grizzly Hair is a young hunter of the Lopotsumne tribe who comes upon strange tracks in the woods – demon tracks, the elders of his tribe say, the same black-hatted demons who long ago killed his father. Grizzly Hair follows those tracks and ends up a whipped, shackled mission prisoner. Escaping, he returns to his tribe with fantastic stories of the great weapons and strange ways of the Padres, and a sure knowledge that it is his destiny to protect his people from ‘the Spanish.’ Thus he begins a remarkable journey across greater California, in an attempt to unite the diverse native people, the Russian traders of Fort Ross, and various American fur traders in what comes to be known as the 1829 rebellion.

Ms. West has a scholar’s knowledge of the peoples, languages and customs of the early California natives, and a novelist’s keen integrative sensibility. She manages to give us a confident overview of the situation without fracturing the narrative with too many points of view. This is a meaty book, intimidating in its heft, but a fascinating read for a long winter night.